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CHAPTER 1

Glass

Glass’s hands were sticky with her mother’s blood. The realization came to her slowly, as if through a thick haze—as if the hands belonged to someone else, and the blood was part of a nightmare. But they were her hands, and the blood was real.

Glass could feel her right palm sticking to the arm of her seat in the first row of the dropship. And she could feel someone squeezing her left hand, hard. It was Luke. He hadn’t let go ever since he’d pulled Glass away from her mother’s body and carried her to her seat. His fingers were grasping hers so tightly he might’ve been trying to siphon the pulsing pain out of her body and store it in his.

Glass tried to stay focused on the warmth of his hand on hers. She concentrated on the strength of his grip, how he showed no signs of loosening his hold even when the dropship began shaking and dipping on its violent trajectory toward Earth.

Not more than a few minutes ago, Glass had been sitting in a seat next to her mother, ready to face the new world together. But now her mother was dead, shot by a deranged guard desperate for a spot on the last shuttle to escape the dying Colony. Glass squeezed her eyes shut, trying to stop the scene from playing out again in her mind: Her mother falling, silently, to the ground. Glass dropping onto the floor next to her mother as she gasped and moaned, unable to do anything to stop the bleeding. Glass, pulling her mother’s head onto her lap and battling sobs to say how much she loved her. Watching the dark stain on her mother’s dress spread as the life faded from her. Watching her face go slack, just after hearing those final words: I’m so proud of you.

There was no stopping the images, just as there was no changing the truth. Her mother was dead, and Glass and Luke were hurtling through space on a ship that would crash into Earth at any moment.

The dropship rattled loudly and jerked from side to side. Glass hardly noticed. She had the vague sensation of a harness digging into her ribs as her body followed the ship’s movements, but the pain of her mother’s death gouged deeper than the metal buckle.

She’d always imagined grief as a weight—that is, when she’d thought about it at all. The old Glass hadn’t spent a great deal of time dwelling on other people’s anguish. That changed after her best friend’s mother died, and she’d watched Wells slump around the ship as if carrying an enormous, invisible burden. But Glass felt different—carved out, hollow, as if all emotion had been scraped out of her. The only thing reminding her that she was still alive was Luke’s reassuring hand on hers.

People pressed against Glass from all sides. Every seat was filled, and men, women, and children stood in every spare inch of the cabin. They held on to each other for balance, though no one could fall down—they were packed too tightly, an undulating mass of flesh and quiet tears. Some whispered the names of people they’d left behind, while others jerked their heads wildly, refusing to accept that they’d said good-bye to loved ones for the last time.

The only person who didn’t look panicked was the man sitting immediately to Glass’s right, Vice Chancellor Rhodes. He was staring straight ahead, either oblivious or impervious to the distraught faces around him. A flash of indignation momentarily masked her pain. Wells’s father, the Chancellor, would’ve been doing everything in his power to comfort those around him. Not that he would’ve accepted a spot on the final dropship in the first place. But Glass was hardly in a position to judge. The only reason she’d made it onto the dropship was because Rhodes had brought Glass and her mother with him when he forced his way on board.

A violent jolt threw Glass back against her seat as the dropship lurched sideways, then tilted almost forty-five degrees before righting itself with a stomach-turning swoop. A child’s wail cut through the collective gasp. Several people shrieked as the metal frame of the dropship began buckling, as if caught in the grasp of a giant fist. A high-pitched, mechanical whine screeched through the cabin, threatening to burst their eardrums, drowning out the cries and terrified sobs.

Glass gripped the arm of her seat and clutched Luke’s hand, waiting for the surge of fear. But it never came. She knew she should be afraid, but the events of the past few days had left her numb. It was hard enough watching her home fall apart as the Colony ran out of oxygen. Hard enough risking an insane, unauthorized spacewalk to make it from Walden to Phoenix, where there was still breathable air. Everything she’d gone through had seemed worth it, though, when Glass, her mother, and Luke had made it onto the dropship. But at this moment, Glass didn’t care if she never got to see Earth. Better to end it all now than have to wake up every morning and remember that her mother was gone.

She glanced to the side and saw Luke staring straight ahead, his face a stony mask of resolve. Was he trying to be brave for her? Or had his extensive guard training taught him how to remain calm under pressure? He deserved better than this. After everything Glass had put him through, was this how it was going to end? Had they escaped certain death on the Colony only to hurtle headlong into a different horrific fate? Humans weren’t scheduled to return to Earth for at least another century, when scientists were sure the radiation left after the Cataclysm would have subsided. This was a premature homecoming, a desperate exodus promising nothing but uncertainty.

Glass looked over at the row of small windows lining the vessel. Hazy gray clouds filled each portal. It was oddly beautiful, she thought, just as the windows suddenly popped and shattered, spraying shards of hot glass and metal throughout the cabin. Flames shot through the broken panes. The people closest to the windows frantically tried to duck and move away, but there was nowhere to go. They leaned backward, falling onto the people behind them. The tang of scorched metal burned Glass’s nostrils, while the scent of something else made her gag.… With rising fear, Glass realized it was the smell of burned flesh.

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